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Fashion
August 30, 2017

Designer Rashmi Varma On Constructing A Fashionable Future From A Regal Past

Text by Shubham Ladha

Varma’s ‘Sari Dress’ gives women the incentive to sport the six-yard garment more regularly and with increased comfort

A proponent of artisanal crafts and clothing, Rashmi Varma has adopted the cloth and given it context, character and identity. She uses natural and handwoven fibres to construct garments and give them a fluid idea of feminity, geometry and abstraction. Her love for reinvention being an integral part of her aesthetic, she uses the past to make way for the future, especially for Indian clothing, which is steeped in history and culture.

The ‘Sari Dress’ is one of Varma’s most prominent creations. The garment has been around for ages, in various forms and materials, but over time its lack of convenience has surpassed its beauty. This is where the sari-dress bridges the gap between the past and the present. Enraptured by its pleats and drapes, Varma combined the sensibilities of the West’s simple sheath and India’s regal drape for this amalgamation. What’s striking is its simplicity is that it can effortlessly be worn anytime you want to play dress up and possesses a sense of groundedness which doesn’t take away from its novelty as a functional design. In a way, Varma has preserved our heritage and tradition without having stuck to the textbook, making the design her own instead.

Excerpts from an interview with Rashmi Varma…

Garb talk
“I was around four when we were travelling from Montreal on an aeroplane and I insisted on wearing this little navy blue skirt and blazer suit because it felt so official and sharp. Even then, I knew it would attract a certain level of attention. I had been coming to India all my life to visit family and explore the country, but I moved here permanently to start my label five years ago. India is definitely challenging on many levels and even after five years, I still feel like I am “adjusting” at times. Running a business all on my own and navigating through city life gets frustrating sometimes, yet creatively, it has been very liberating. I’ve learned to take each day as it comes.

Growing along the way
“Costume designing was a serendipitous development as it was not something I had set out to do originally. After working in architecture/interior design, I decided to pursue my love for clothing and worked in fashion as a freelancer. As long as I was doing something related to fabric, I was content. This paved the path for some stray styling and costuming projects for small theatre performances and short films. Through hard work and connecting with influential people, better work started to come my way and I spent several years working in film before moving to India in 2012 to start my label.”

Reinventing tradition
There are many Indian garments that I am inspired by, therefore, the aim is not to “contemporise” them, but merge certain elements with other garments to create something different. I try not to think too much about traditional versus modern; everything has to have a relevant context to my work. The sari dress is a good example of melding two styles and creating a fresh one that functions differently from a sari but has the essence of it. The sari dress is not a replacement of the sari or a contemporary version of it. It is about giving women the incentive to wear it more regularly. Employing the original term as part of our name helps us maintain ties with our source of inspiration.”

The aesthetic | The studio | The process
“Rashmi Varma is a womenswear label with respect for artisanal craft culture. Our silhouettes often combine tailoring with drape giving rise to unique sculptural garments. Richly textured and tactile; geometry, abstraction and a restrained use of colour emerge with the use of natural fibres, hand woven cottons and silks, and embroideries. Present in each collection is a love for light and shadow, geometry and a hint of the absurd.
My studio-office is sequestered in Shahpur Jat in New Delhi and is surrounded by the constant buzz of of activity but I never get bothered by it. 95% of the work is done inhouse right from designing, embroidering and cutting to sewing and finishing. We work with weavers from around the country and the rest of it is completed at the studio so that we maintain a high standard within a comfortable workspace. “

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